The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has forever transformed and improved our nation's response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. But vital legislation to expand its provisions is now stalled in Congress.
As a result of VAWA, victims are safer, and more perpetrators are held accountable. Since its initial passage in 1994, more victims report domestic violence to the police. The rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence against women has decreased by 53%; the number of individuals killed by an intimate partner has decreased by 36% for women and 57% for men; and states have passed more than 600 laws to combat these insidious crimes.
Nervertheless, crimes of domestic violence remain serious and pervasive. One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape.
A strong, bipartisan reauthorization of VAWA (S.1925) passed the Senate on April 26 by a vote of 68 to 31. On May 16, a House bill (H.R. 4970) narrowly passed by a vote of 222 to 205.
Now, Congress must make moving forward on VAWA a priority. It should pass a reauthorization bill that responds to the continued need for services, intervention and prevention, and that safely and effectively protects all victims.
Here are some of the key areas at stake:
Concurrent Jurisdiction for Tribal Crimes
Federal courts have limited resources to pursue all but the most serious violations on tribal lands. As a result, most domestic and dating violence that occurs on native lands go unpunished.
Tribal court systems must be able to prosecute these crimes to ensure that justice is served in native communities.
Protections for LGBT Populations
In some communities, services and protections remain unavailable to LGBT victims of domestic and sexual violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
LGBT-inclusive language would clarify that all domestic and sexual violence victims have access to VAWA's protections, and would increase the ability of victim service providers to work effectively with LGBT victims.
Protections for Immigrant Crime Victims
VAWA protections for immigrant victims have received strong bipartisan support since VAWA's first passage in 1994, when Congress recognized that immigration status should never be used as a tool of abuse.
These protections encourage victims to seek safety and report crimes.
A recent report by the Congressional Research Service confirms the lack of empirical evidence of systemic fraud, and highlights many existing anti-fraud measures.
The reauthorization bill should include additional steps to assess and improve the effectiveness of VAWA adjudications while maintaining the priority on victim protection and public safety.
Improved Safety on College Campuses
Victims of domestic, dating and sexual violence and stalking on campus need more transparent information, more prevention programs, and improved assistance on college campuses, as well as Campus Safety Resource Centers to support colleges and universities with best practices and guidance to address violence on campus.
Enhanced Services for Victims of Sexual Assault
Sexual assault victims face numerous obstacles to justice.
The rape kit backlog, as well as the lack of widespread forensic services for victims of sexual assault, inhibits the ability of law enforcement, prosecution, and the courts to protect and provide justice to victims, while holding offenders accountable. The final VAWA must include the most protective provisions for victims of this terrible crime.
Building on current law, the final bill should include a strong and workable emergency housing transfer policy for federally subsidized housing programs and language that ensures victims will be notified of their VAWA housing rights.
These protections enable victims to report their abuse to police and access other resources in the criminal justice system without threat of eviction.
Preventing the Rollback of Services to Communities of Color
Victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking should experience no barriers in accessing the services they seek.
Unfortunately, however, many communities have not dedicated adequate resources to developing culturally appropriate services designed and led by Communities of Color (COC).
The final VAWA should enhance existing COC resources in current law and ensure that Communities of Color can create accessible gateways to services for victims of color.
Providing Transparent and ffective Accountability Measures
VAWA should ensure that appropriate financial reporting information and training is provided to grantees, as well as promote consistent auditing requirements based on sound accounting and legal practices.
VAWA funds should not be diverted from precious grant dollars to growing government bureaucracy and create duplicative paperwork.
Any individual who commits fraud should be punished according to law, but victims who rely on programs that make inadvertent book-keeping errors must not be denied service and assistance.
Criminal Justice Provisions
A final bill should not include any criminal sentencing provisions that lack a bi-cameral consensus, and should ensure that those that remain appropriately balance the needs of survivors, law enforcement, and communities.
VAWA programs are essential to meeting the needs of millions of victims across the country.
Without VAWA reauthorization, these lifesaving programs are all in jeopardy and victims risk not having access to vital services and support.
Passing a strong, bipartisan VAWA immediately means that survivors don't have to wait for safety or for justice.
Shaina Goodman is Public Policy Coordinator for the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). She welcomes comments from readers.